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At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Theatre troupe raises avian influenza awareness in a Lao village

© UNICEF Laos/2006/ Holmes
Actors from the National Drama Troupe in Vientiane, Laos perform a sketch about the dangers of bird flu in Na Sala village.

By Aiden Glendinning

VIENTIANE PROVINCE, Lao PDR, 27 September 2006 – As the sun drops behind the tall teak trees surrounding Na Sala village in central Laos, the crow of a rooster erupts from amplifiers in a forest clearing. The area rapidly fills with people while children gaze expectantly at a curtain-covered stage. The theatre has come to town.

“We’ve never had a real live theatre in our village before,” says Thong, an excited 14-year-old. “We heard there was going to be this show on bird flu. It was announced over the village loudspeaker, but we thought it would just be another meeting.”

Thong’s life has already been touched by the disease. His home is in the Xaythani District, where thousands of chickens from local poultry farms were culled by government officials following an avian influenza outbreak last July.

Education and awareness

According to Na Sala’s Chief Siphanavong, the show will not only teach people how serious and dangerous bird flu is but also explain to the villagers how they can protect themselves.

© UNICEF Laos/2006/ Holmes
Children and adults gather to see a live performance educating them on the dangers of bird flu.

“We were delighted when the actors asked to come and perform here,” he says. “We really appreciate the effort that UNICEF and the government are making.”

The theatre performances are part of a joint programme launched by the Lao PDR Government and UNICEF to prevent the spread of avian and human influenza by providing health education and community awareness. The programme is made possible by a grant from the people of Japan.

This show is not an isolated action in the effort to control bird flu in Lao PDR. With support from the United Nations, the government has developed a National Avian Influenza Control and Pandemic Preparedness Plan, which includes increased surveillance of poultry as well as the training of workers in bird flu detection.

“We’ve had several visits from experts collecting information and giving us materials about regulations and poultry-handling techniques,” said Mr. Siphanavong. “Tonight is different, though. Many of our people are illiterate, and I’m sure this experience will have a huge effect on them.”

A familiar dilemma

A hush falls over the crowd as the curtain rises on an improvised stage. After some songs and stand-up comedy, the highlight of the evening is a boisterous play.

In the performance, an old man steals his hen’s eggs and eats them raw to increase his vigour. When the authorities come to confiscate all poultry following a bird flu outbreak, the man awkwardly tries to hide the prized bird. The audience roars with laughter but falls silent as he finally realizes that he must turn over his beloved but sick hen.

For many of the inhabitants of Na Sala, the old man’s dilemma is all too familiar. By giving up his chicken, he will lose an important source of extra income as well as nutrition. If he keeps it, he risks spreading a dangerous illness, not only to other fowl but potentially to family members – particularly children. 

“We boys are often the ones who slaughter the family chickens,” Tong remarks after the performance. “I wash my hands afterwards, of course, but I don’t use soap and didn’t realize I should have covered my face as well. I was lucky, I guess.”

Bird flu came to Na Sala but mercifully there was no transmission from birds to humans. Now, the UN, the Lao PDR Government and other partners are working to ensure that if it happens again, the villagers will be well prepared.



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